Go West

 

When I talked with trustees chairman James S. Riepe W’65 WG’67 about Princeton University Provost Amy Gutmann being chosen as Penn president, he acknowledged that some might ask, “‘What are you doing taking somebody out of this suburban school and dropping them into West Philadelphia?’”

For the full answer, turn to page 18 in our “Gazetteer” section, but, along with the many other qualifications that recommended her, it became clear to the search committee, Riepe said, that in her scholarship Gutmann had thought long and hard about issues affecting urban areas and that her commitment to the cities was “sincere and longheld.” In fact, though she has spent her entire academic career in Princeton, the attraction has been the institution and the academic community there, “not because it was in Princeton,” he noted. “One of the references said that, frankly, she will be better suited to an urban area than a suburban one.”

Gutmann herself, at the January 23 press conference announcing her nomination and in a later interview in her office in Princeton’s Nassau Hall, was both thoughtful and passionate in commenting on her excitement at being selected to lead Penn and her eagerness to build on the University’s relationship with its neighborhood, the city, and the state of Pennsylvania. Penn’s group of excellent professional schools with “a great liberal arts university and college at its heart” and its location in “a wonderful city” combine for a package that was “made in heaven,” she said.

Gutmann, whose most recent book is Identity in Democracy, also referenced Benjamin Franklin (another non-native who made Philadelphia his own) in her remarks at the press conference, noting that she associated Penn’s “great spirit” with the Founder “and all that is wonderful about American democracy.”

Though a perennial subject on this campus, Franklin has been more in the news generally, thanks to the recent biography by Walter Isaacson—who sat down with freelancer Barbra Shotel CW’64 for a Q&A when he was on campus last semester. Her interview is in “Gazetteer,” as is another story on the annual celebration of Franklin’s birthday sponsored by a consortium of groups he was involved in establishing. This year’s focus was an aspect of Franklin’s life especially near and dear to our hearts here—his work as a printer, notably of the newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette, our namesake, which he published from 1729 to 1748.

According to Isaacson, Franklin, “in his life and in his writings, was consciously trying to create a new American archetype.” The idea of the Western frontier is surely another major part of our common myth—and that one has a Penn connection as well (two, actually). As senior editor Samuel Hughes describes in “Dentist of the Purple Sage,” what we think we know about the “Wild West” was actually in large part the creation of one man—Penn Dental alumnus Pearl Zane Gray D1896 Hon’17, who, as Zane Grey, wrote some 60 books set there (not to mention one set at a certain thinly disguised Eastern university).

As if that weren’t enough, a figure in what is arguably the iconic Western event—the Gunfight at the OK Corral—turns out to be another graduate of the Dental School (technically, a predecessor institution): John Henry “Doc” Holliday—who, incidentally, appears to have been more gifted as a dentist than Grey.

Here at the Gazette, we’ve pulled up stakes and headed West ourselves—a few blocks, anyway. In early January, we moved our editorial offices from Sweeten Alumni House, where our Alumni Relations colleagues were in desperate need of additional office space, to new quarters at 3910 Chestnut Street, just steps away from the Fresh Grocer supermarket, The Bridge cinema, and other developments along the 40th Street corridor. I can’t say I don’t occasionally miss the view of College Green and the Furness building that I used to have out my window, but this is probably a better vantage point from which to report on the University’s continuing engagement with its neighbors.

—John Prendergast C’80


2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 02/27/04

Mar|Apr Contents
Gazette Home
Previous issue's column